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University of Idaho students remembered for their ‘strength and inspiration’ and awarded posthumous degrees

<i>Obtained by CNN</i><br/>Kaylee Goncalves
Obtained by CNN
Kaylee Goncalves

By Ray Sanchez, CNN

The four University of Idaho students who were fatally stabbed in their off-campus home were remembered for their “strength and inspiration” Saturday on graduation day, exactly six months after they were killed.

Kaylee Goncalves, 21, Xana Kernodle, 20, Madison Mogen, 21, and Ethan Chapin, 20, are being awarded posthumous degrees.

After Mogen’s parents accepted her bachelor’s in marketing at the first of two commencement ceremonies, a long round of applause followed as a photo of her was shown on a screen.

“Madison’s family will always be members of the Vandal family, so thank you for joining us today to celebrate her academic achievements and contributions to the University of Idaho,” President Scott Green said at the ceremony, using the nickname for the university.

Later Saturday, Goncalves’ family will accept her bachelor’s of general studies. A certificate in recreation, sport and tourism, and management will be delivered to Chapin’s family in the coming weeks.

Kernodle’s family accepted her certificate in marketing during a private ceremony on Monday.

At the first ceremony, commencement speaker Louis Freeh, the former FBI director, acknowledged the tragedy.

“I want to commend you and your colleagues for your extraordinary service to everyone in this room and beyond during an unprecedented period of time,” Freeh said, addressing Green. “You’ve gone through a fiscal crisis, a pandemic, and a horrific tragedy that could shatter any community but did not here, because of the strength and the work and the love that were shown to you by everybody, and helping one another.”

Freeh recognized FBI colleagues in the audience “for the significant support that they’ve provided to this community over the past few months, along with our state and local police partners.”

Addressing the graduates, Freeh said, “Sadly, your path here at the University of Idaho has been rough. And you have together experienced the great family and community tragedy.

“The loss of Ethan, Xana, Kaylee and Maddie will remain in your hearts and minds for the rest of your journey. The strength and inspiration of their life accomplishments and their families’ devotion and courage is now an inseparable part of you as you go forward.”

The four students were found dead November 13. They had spent the night out. Chapin and Kernodle had attended a party on campus earlier that night, according to police. Mogen and Goncalves went to a downtown bar before ordering food at a late-night food truck.

Many students left campus as a wave of fear and anxiety swept across the small college town of Moscow, Idaho, while the suspected killer was on the loose.

The man accused of killing the students, Bryan Christopher Kohberger, 28, was arrested seven weeks after they were found dead.

Kohberger was a graduate student at Washington State University’s Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology and lived in Pullman, Washington, at the time of his arrest at his parents’ Pennsylvania home last December. Pullman, home to WSU, is less than 10 miles west of the University of Idaho.

At the university’s winter graduation on December 10, Green took a moment to focus on the victims and the meaning of their loss.

“They were bright lights on our campus and cherished members of our community,” the university president said before asking the more than 550 graduates, their families and faculty to honor the memory of the victims with a moment of silence.

On Saturday, nearly 800 winter graduates were to join more than 1,500 other graduates at two ceremonies.

“Our students have endured and persevered in their time at the university and are ready to go out into the world and make a difference,” Green said in a statement before the graduation.

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